Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Broad View

George Sheldon (left), secretary of Florida Department of Children and Families, and Jim DeBeaugrine (second from left), director of Agency for Persons with Disabilities, talk with Georgina Herbert and her adopted son Kaydrin at a press conference about how the two agencies have made it easier to adopt children who have disabilities at the Juvenile Justice Center. TIM CHAPMAN / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

This blog began as a means to advocate for children and their gay adoptive parents. Thanks to the Third District Appellate Court ruling back on September 22nd of this year, the ban on gay adoption in Florida will no longer be enforced. But given the title of the blog, the issues that face children in our state are far wider than the issue of gay adoption. Thus, it is my intent to have this blog find a sustained life in looking at the broader issues of child welfare in Florida.

Looking at stories around Florida this week, on the adoption front we have good news about the  financial support offered to families adopting disabled children. Typically, when a child who is seriously disabled enters foster care, that child will age out of the system, even if the child has adults who would wish otherwise. The fiscal realities of being able to care for a seriously disabled foster child that you love and would like to offer permanency to have been daunting. An August survey of children waiting for adoptive homes revealed 638 children with developmental disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy and mental retardation, among the many disabilities suffered by some of the children in foster care. More than 220 of those children are waiting to qualify for APD services.

"I've had clients where I told them, 'It doesn't make sense for you to adopt, because all of the assistance you're getting from the government, it's not going to be there for you once you adopt -- and you can't afford what this child needs,' '' said Alan Mishael, a Miami attorney who represents S.M. "I don't have to say that anymore.''
~ From the Miami Herald       

A new program, forged between the Department of Children and Families and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities sets aside funds for the additional services that will continue to be needed by disabled children in foster care. Services which the standard adoption subsidy in our state would not even begin to cover.

Under the auspices of this program, Georgina Herbert recently adopted Kaydrin Herbert, shown above. Kaydrin is a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome, a dreadful condition of brain damage created when a newborn is shaken violently, causing the soft, developing brain to slosh against the cranial walls. Kaydrin, rendered blind, mentally retarded and requiring around the clock care, had lived with Georgina Herbert, a nurse, since he was 2 months old.

Children who face serious disabilities may be cared for by loving foster parents who have few rights when it comes to making the actual decisions about the child's welfare and healthcare. I can tell you exactly how lucky Kaydrin is to have one person who will look after his care. I once had a Guardian ad Litem case with a young woman who was aging out of foster care. She was a shaken baby. She had been living with her medical foster home parent since the age of two weeks. She was mute, blind, and immobile. Her biological mother, whose rights had been terminated, was trying to re-ensconce herself into her daughter's life. The foster parent was faced with a terrible dilemma. As an APD provider of services to the child she could not become this child's permanent legal guardian after she aged out. She could not afford to adopt the child and lose the funding stream that paid for 24 hour care for the child. The biological parent clearly saw that funding stream, including the Social Security Income for the child, as a source of revenue. We got someone to become that child's permanent legal guardian, but she still has no legal parent nor is the woman who cares for her able to make important decisions unilaterally on her behalf. It was abundantly obvious to me, however, who that child's parent was. When the foster parent walked into the room calling her name, the girl rolled her head toward her and smiled. When her arm was stroked and her forehead kissed, everything about her relaxed and spoke of happiness. It was easy to tell the judge in the case that she should remain in this home permanently. 

Every child should have what she has.  Kaydrin no doubt does, and he has it with a legal judgment.

He's one lucky young man.

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